Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Potpourri of Questions from Reddit

Yesterday I did a grueling 8 hour Reddit AMA: Ask Me Anything, archived here.  Shall I go ahead and post some of the questions and my answers?

What advancement that will happen within our lifetimes do you most look forward to? Why?

Reddit-AMAI talk to a lot of the "Singularity" guys and I get to be the grouch toward their expectations of looming imminent immortality. Not that there won't be advances; I hope for some! But I think the human enlightenment projected is vastly more important than any one person's greedy clutch at life extension! Hence, what I yearn for is improvements in PROCESS. The Enlightenment processes of markets and democracy and science have been spectacular! Guys like Clay Shirky claim the Web is making us hugely smarter in real time. But ....  I don't see that. There are many tools still missing and lobotomizing conversation to 140 words won't do it.

I show some of those possible improvements... in EXISTENCE!

The web transcendentalists are one side, then you get cyber-cynics like Nicholas Carr. You might like my article showing what both sides miss:  My Salon Magazine feature comparing the technology pessimists to those who think the Internet is turning us into gods: Is the Web Helping Us Evolve?

What advancements have the potential to change everything?
  • Better online methods of discourse
  • Brain/intelligence augmentation
  • Artificial Intelligence... assuming we prevent it from emerging from predatory high frequency stock trading programs (if it does we are so screwed; and yes I know you are reading this, Goldman-Sachs Pouncer 234s!)
  • Getting all to realize that self-righteous indignation is a real, bona fide drug-high self-doped addiction! One that we baby boomers are expert at!
What can we citizens do, to overcome governmental resistance to transparency? The issue ends up buried under all the other partisan concerns -- yet every aspect of government would be so much better if transparent. How can we overcome the static friction and get the ball rolling?

TransparentSocietyYou expect the mighty to willingly let themselves be kept accountable? Look at the last 6000 years. We humans (especially when powerful) always come up with reasons why WE (and our friends) need privacy while our foes need accountability.

Those 6000 years show how obstinate the problem is, but they also show reasons for optimism! The Enlightenment's 250 year experiment has been amazing. Adam Smith said break up power into smaller chunks so the mighty will help us to hold EACH OTHER accountable, and we did!

The time to worry? When the mighty conspire against this solution.  As they are doing now.

Always watch out for the next layer you missed. I am "Contrary Brin" and hence I must point out that all the power consolidations you are mentioning (government bureaucracies) are old and have not changed much in decades, yet you fret them as if they are skyrocketing.

Taxes are near their lowest rates in 80 years, Federal and state shares of the economy are plummeting and historically low. So why your fixation on that center of power? Might it be because far more aggressively rising accumulations of power want you focused that way?

I am a Smithian-Heinleinian libertarian. I distrust ALL accumulations of power! Look back across 6000 years and tell me who was oppressed and who were the oppressors?

What group of conspiracists worry you the most? Political, economic, military, scientific, insert group here?

We all do selective perception. If you are "progressive" you notice conspiracies of the right and vice versa. (Personally, I find the "left-right axis" to be lobotomizing.)

I am Contrarian -- so my libertarian friends get poked by me and they think I am liberal. My liberal friends hear me rave on and on about Adam Smith. But yes, I do believe that one conspiracy - HG Wells's mutant/cannibalistic "murdochs" - is the worst.

Technology is lowering the barriers to entry in writing and publishing books, particularly through the ebook phenomenon. Do you think that large publishing houses will still be playing a major role in 10, 20, or 50 years? Or will we have completely switched to a grass-roots self-publishing system?

Think of human society. 99% of those before ours were pyramid shaped, with oligarchs atop -- and we may be heading back that way. But the West invented the diamond-shaped society in which a thriving middle out numbers the poor or rich.

It turns out some professions are naturally diamond-like. Like engineering. You engineers MIGHT be rich or poor but are likely to have a house/car etc.

The arts will ALWAYS be pyramidal. For every Steven King there are ten of me who are doing great but who envy him (he's a nice man actually.) For every author who is comfy there are ten squeaking by. And so on down. What has changed is the PATH to climb the pyramid. You can still get plucked up to the top by mavens and pros (editors) OR you can climb the Ramp of Merit with online pubs and fanzines and e-books.  These aren't either-or paths.  They are complementary.  Both will endure and we'll get good art in both ways.

In your Uplift series, there are several earth species which eventually achieve sentience. What are your thoughts on developing the intelligence of these species? Should we interfere or leave them to go on as they have? Or, rather, should we expand our ideas surrounding sentience to encompass these species?

StartideThe left will say "they have their own nobility and style of intelligence!" And the right would decry meddling in God's plan.

But I have met the dolphins and spoken to their researchers. ALL agree the creatures would love to be smarter than they are. They seem frustrated and are desperately eager and get awfully miffed they can't figure out a problem they know that a human child can easily suss.

I consider it criminally selfish to hold onto the top position - all for ourselves - if we could help others up that last and obviously very difficult few rungs. LOOK at how many other races are stuck at nearly the same level! Dolphins, parrots, apes, sea lions, possibly octopi. Something about the next step is HARD and I think maybe we should lend a hand.

Many will call EXISTENCE a prequel to Startide Rising in that it shows one possible beginning to the Uplift Project. And it shows that it won't be easy!

Oh, thousands of folks have written to me jazzed by the notion that we might someday spread the diversity of intelligent civilization on Earth - a worthy goal! We'll make other minds! AIs! Uplifted dolphins and apes! Heck we might even manage to uplift our children!

But then people realize that uplifting apes or dolphins would take 200+ years and along the way? Pain.

Since writing The Transparent Society, have you changed your opinion about the potential for transparency to improve society? Do you track projects related to implementing the concepts presented in that book (and if so, do you have a list of active and/or defunct projects)? Are you interested in being involved in such projects?

I grow increasingly convinced that the four great innovations of the Enlightenment: Democracy, Markets, Science and Justice, absolutely depend on most of the participants knowing most of what's going on, most of the time.

All four languish, sicken and die if secrecy prevails.

I am a moderate! The Transparent Society is filled with discussion of exceptions where secrecy can pass a burden of proof and privacy is important!
But ironically it can only be defended if we see well enough to catch the peeping toms.

What sparked the idea for an entire civilization built upon uplift? Do you see this as the inevitable progression of intelligent species or was it just a thought experiment?

ExistenceHCGREAT question. Almost all I do is informed by the Fermi Paradox. EXISTENCE lays down dozens of hypotheses (amid a rollicking, idea-drenched adventure!

In the Uplift Universe I wanted to do space opera with LOTS of alien races. Only how can that happen and be stable if everyone is colonizing and warring like mad... the galaxies would go to hell.

But the progenitors set up this cycle, see, in which your status depends on how many "offspring" races you raise up. This means everybody becomes fanatical to protect Nursery Worlds where candidate species can rise up. Wars are limited and potential protected... see? It is not a friendly cosmos, but it does limit the worst failure modes...

Do you think humans as a species could survive in a world where there is no scarcity?

I think Star Trek is the most wholesome sci fi ever and it portrays a somewhat post-scarcity world. Look many of us already live in such a world. Our cave ancestors would call us gods.

Do you know where your own contrarian streak comes from?

A sense of how desperately little time we have to get things right. And that everybody who enslaves themselves to a simpleminded dogma is betraying their own agility of mind or ability to learn from one another.

Even if your side is 80% right, it desperately needs its faults questioned!  Criticism is the only known antidote to error.  So thank your foes for providing lots of it!  To help you improve.

Then return the favor!


LarryHart said...

concerning the Uplift-universe "progenetors"...

I find it quite interesting that all of Galactic civilization takes as axiomatic the "truth" that self-uplift is impossible. And yet, all of Galactic civilization knows of (and in fact worship) a concrete example of a species with DID self-uplift. The Progenitors.

The fact that billions of sentient creatures can simultaneously hold both of these positions without question seems to be ludicrous, but it mirrors the real-life argument that the universe is too perfect to have spontaneoulsy appeared, and therefore must have been created by God (Who apparently ISN'T too perfect to have spontaneously appeared Himself).

clem said...

i like the idea of uplift, but i think people are looking at the wrong targets. cetaceans and other primates are well on the way, but both are under severe ecological threat. if we start experimenting on them, that could be the extra pressure that pushes them into extinction. social animals would probably be the best place to start. a fairly compelling theory holds that the huge human brain resulted from runaway evolution driven by social pressure and the concomitant need to model the minds of other beings. we will also want to avoid the trap of overspecializating. the upliftees. we don't want to end up with dead enders like the moties who, as eliezer yudkowsky puts it, "stayed organic too long." they thereby ended up locked into a cycle with no potential for long term progress. i would suggest that we start with domesticated species. breed, say, usable fingers into dogs and perhaps bipedalism to allow them to use their new hands more easily. then start the brain work. a longer path, but so what? the canine genome, obviously, has lots of plasticity and diversity. we already have a lot of experience with extensively modifying them without gene surgery. and they are unlikely to go extinct in the environmental kerfluffles we are heading for. also, domestication has gone some way toward instilling some of the traits smart dogs would probably need.

Jonathan S. said...

But Larry, that's exactly why certain species have a real problem with the existence of humanity in the Uplift tales, and why they'd happily eliminate us all if they could.

You see, the Progenitors could self-uplift because they were just so frigging wonderful. That's why they get worshiped, why the Uplift Institute controls so much, and why the fanatics hate humanity for having the gall to believe we jumped to sapience without a patron species. (And worse, for having the gall to have evidence that this is the case. Imagine the reaction of fundamentalist Christians to someone who can prove that the miracles of Christ can be easily reproduced by just anyone, instead of being evidence of His divinity...)

Carl M. said...

Political discourse will always be more about team identity than the truth as long as we have a two-party system. Negative campaigning works as long as their is only one opponent.

And we will continue to have a two-party system as long as we have simple plurality voting. Ballot access changes, campaign finance reform and/or instant runoff will not fix the problem. Approval voting, or better: range voting, would fix the problem.

Contrary to the impressions left by some public schools, the United States did not invent democracy or republican government. Neither is the impression left by slightly better schools: democracy wasn't invented in Athens, and there were quite a few republics between the rise of Julius Caesar and the American Revolution.

Range voting is ancient, and worked with fractious illiterate societies. It worked for the Vikings.

Rob said...

Erm... some of the "miracles of Christ" are reproduced regularly. I know this oncologist, and also a couple of psychiatrists, an optometrist over at Costco...there's the fountain drink guy who installed the Coke machine at Burger King down the road (transmuting water, heh), um... all regularly and thoughtlessly used by most fundamentalist Christians I know.

Rob said...

Oh, and I see no reason not to reform voting I just learned last month that the secret ballot was an Australian innovation that American progressives adopted. Before then the ballot wasn't secret, and the parties gave you a ticket with the party list on it.

I say we do it again.

Robert said...

Here's a little something that may surprise you: quoted from "PM Network" magazine's article on Intrapreneurship in Project Management:

"Consider the current project to digitize at least 2.5 million books a year launched by Recaptcha, a technology company owned by Google. Recaptcha uses the optical character recognition (OCR) technique to scan each page as an image and convert it to plain text using OCR. But approximately 30 percent of books cannot be translated to plain text by the technique and must be manually translated.

That's where the real creativity comes in. It uses forms called "captchas" to display a distorted word image that went unrecognized by the OCR technique. Web users then are required to type in the words before entering websites to ensure they are human—and in doing so, they help the translation process. So far, 750 million people have participated in the project, most without even knowing they were part of the project team to digitize the world's books."

Rob H.

Robert said...

A couple of interesting science-based news articles for you all:

First, the use of synchrotron-based nano tomography found the presence of nanoparticles in lunar soil, which explains the rather odd properties inherent in the soil. In short, the soil particles are full of nanoparticles, thus causing the higher static nature of lunar dust and its other properties.

Also, research has found that the theory of dinosaurs being cold-blooded may be incorrect. Of course, it's still up for debate, but it's an interesting knock against the prevailing theory.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tony Fisk said...

I thought the issue of 'cold blooded dinosaurs' was sorted ages ago!

I read about the recapcha technique a while back. Using it as a validation technique suggests that someone has already translated the text! (However, it does imply that bots hooked up to OCR tech aren't going to have much luck either)

PS: for all that he's mentioned, Credeiki hasn't made an appearance* in the Uplift novels since 'Startide Rising'!

*Maybe a hypothetical cameo at the end of 'Heavens Reach'

Maestro Sidereus said...

I finally watched Prometheus, in IMAX 3D no less.

This may be the most visually stunning movie I have ever seen. Michael Fassbender steals the show. BUT, unfortunately, I agree with most of this review (spoliers in the review):

Prometheus Review

Regardless of the seemingly endless cliches, I would recommend this movie to anyone interested in science fiction and GREAT visuals - sometimes jaw-dropping visuals.

After just finishing Existence...could someone in the movie industry contact db to write the next screenplay, if there is a sequel? Sheesh! Talk about writing that is worlds apart!

Dwight Williams said...

I suspect that you're keeping an eye open for ways and means of turning the arts portion of the economy from "pyramid" to "diamond" shape...?

Tony Fisk said...

I like the lead-in to that Prometheus review:

"Do you remember the large, fossilized, vaguely humanoid creature sitting in a pilot’s seat in the middle of the ship, its ribs exploded from its chest, and wondering just what in the hell that thing was?

Scott’s latest film, Prometheus, pulls back the curtain on this 33-year old mystery, and what is revealed is truly horrifying..."

Now, I've seen an alternative review suggesting that Scott is saying a lot about uplift (Engineers begat humanity begat androids). It's an interesting theory, but most commentators don't buy it.

Neither review has encouraged me to see it.

Personally, I've come to think of the whole 'Alien' series as owing more to helpless Lovecraftian horror than optimistic sf. It was 'Aliens' that raised expectations in that regard. (With a Lovecraftian outlook, Alien 3 was actually OK: but as a follow-on from Aliens?... NOOO*!)

*Having a penchant for trying to redeem narratives that head off in naff directions, I did ponder the idea of a movie that dealt with a salvage team restoring the remains of Bishop, and Bishop coming to terms with the Corporation programming that burst out and overwhelmed him; driving him to smuggle the alien on board.


I suspect that you're keeping an eye open for ways and means of turning the arts portion of the economy from "pyramid" to "diamond" shape...?

Kickstarter and its ilk (like the Australian based Pozible) are one possible way of doing this.

John Kurman said...

Prometheus. Well, how many SF movies are actually a) SF, and b) good? Not many. And many prevail despite the screenplay. I would say Prometheus prevailed despite the screenplay. The reviewer is unhappy with the aline Engineers? My suspicion is that the alien Engineers are the alien's androids, not the aliens themselves. And if a sequel is made, I'll bet monies my suspicion pans out.

Paul451 said...

"The arts will ALWAYS be pyramidal."

Financially pyramidal. Where most people make nothing, fewer and fewer make more and more.

But in terms of skill, it must be diamond shaped (or rather, bell-curved.) Most people are clustered around average, with fewer as you move to the very good and very bad ends of the graph or the top/bottom of the diamond.

Re: Captcha.

One word is known to the system, one is new. The known word is squashed and distorted to confuse OCR spambots. If you get the known word right, you pass the robot test; the same new word is given to two (or more) humans, and if they both give the same answer, then that result is trusted.

For example, my current one is "956 vingchT", the "956" is an undistorted picture of a street-number, I think, and is the new word, "vingchT" is squished up and is the "known word". I need to get "vingchT" right to prove I'm a human. And if two humans both interpret the picture as "956" then that is used by Google.

Jumper said...

Publishing without editors usually turns me off. Even excellent writers need an editor. Not all the time, but often.

Robert said...

And yet freelance editors are available and can be of better quality than the ones at big publishers. Do note I have frequently found errors in published novels and the like that seem obvious to me. Of course, I do have a degree of separation and am reading it in print, which helps catch errors....

Rob H.

Rob said...

We need editors. Otherwise people will spell the word that means "guided by charismatic figure" the same way as the word that means "element alchemists wanted to change to gold" and that bothers me about as much as getting "its" and "it's" confused.

Jonathan S. said...

Rob, I didn't mean the results of the miracles (certain diseases could be cured by medicine even in Christ's time) - I mean the miracles themselves (you know, curing diseases by sheer force of will, walking on water unassisted, raising the clinically dead, turning one liquid into another without introducing any other chemicals, that sort of thing). After all, in the Uplift universe, scientific intervention works to make new sophonts; in fact, it's the only approved method. What the Jophur and their allies object to is the idea that humans achieved that plateau without being engineered by a patron species.

How would fundamentalists react to my hypothetical equivalence, in all likelihood? Well, Heinlein explored some options in Stranger In a Strange Land...

Anonymous said...

By Smithian-Heinleinian I take it you mean Adam and not L.Neil Smith?

LarryHart said...

Paul Krugman blogs about the ruling on the Affordable Care Act mandate. The reference to CNN is to the fact that both CNN and FOX initially reported the exact opposite of the actual ruling, erroneoulsy claiming that the court had struck down the mandate. A real "Dewey Defeate Truman" moment in our lifetime:


Yes, I’m on vacation. And I’ve tried not to think about Scotus, even though I was campaigning for universal health care long before it was fashionable. But I did have a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach this morning, all the same.

And then the ruling came down; fortunately, I was reading Scotusblog, not watching CNN — and I was so hyper that I needed medication.

Health reform may yet be killed. But not today. And never mind the horserace politics: ordinary Americans have just won big.

Anonymous said...

This is totally off-topic, but can anyone explain who is behind the social engineering that has made whites a minority in our wonderful corporate and government advertising/propaganda? What is the agenda here? Why are whites being sold down the river culturally and tolerating it? Perhaps Brin is friendly with some of the architects of this insane and unprecedented phenomenon? I feel totally unrepresented by either party, and feel as though there needs to be some kind of revolution soon. WTF is going on in America?

Jumper said...

Odd fluke of your demographic target? Doesn't happen to me.

Sean Strange said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rewinn said...

"....WTF is going on in America..."

... is that trolls are being ignored.

Rob said...

Rob, I didn't mean the results of the miracles (certain diseases could be cured by medicine even in Christ's time) - I mean the miracles themselves (you know, curing diseases by sheer force of will, walking on water unassisted, raising the clinically dead, turning one liquid into another without introducing any other chemicals, that sort of thing).

If we're being credulous about the wedding at Cana, then Jesus clearly introduced other chemicals to the water. Showing me that "sheer force of will" was the enacting mechanism for a Biblical healing, or that the water walking was unassisted, reads into the record things that aren't there.

But my answer to your root question is that fundamentalists would do what you just did: They would deny that oncology, for example, is a miracle. A fundamentalist would deny that the evidence you show is what he means by "miracles of Christ", just as you have done when presented with examples that didn't conform to your notions. I don't think all of them would form a mob the way Heinlein depicted in Stranger; the most civilized would simply live on without thinking about the proof.

It's part of what makes it frustrating to talk to them. Kind of like the overreaction to John Roberts' basically constructionist and conservative SCOTUS opinion today. You won't be able to convince a TEA-Party adherent of that fact, because the outcome wasn't what he'd want.

Ian Gould said...

The confusion at Fox and CNN probably arose because of the way Roberts drafted his decision.

In Part III A he stated that the Commerce Clause didn't apply, he then spoke at some length before declaring in Part III C that the individual mandate was a valid application of the power to raise taxes.

Fairly obviously, Fox and CNN jumped the gun after Part III A becasue they wanted to be first with the news.

Robert said...

Here's another science news article that has some real potential for saving lives... and maybe also allowing for innovations in other fields: Scientists invented particles that can reoxygenate blood without a risk of embolism. While its use in medicine is easy to see, it could also be used in space... and underwater. Though I have to wonder if there are drawbacks to it....

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"....allowing for innovations in other fields:..."

Sinful me promptly thought "Wow, what kind of mixed drink could we make with this!"

OK, back to serious discussion ...

Anonymous said...

The phenomenon I'm speaking of is factual and you know it. Turn on your television, go to a government office or a university and open your eyes! Whites are now in the "back of the bus" in all propaganda. It's not even subtle. I would like to a be a liberal, but because it's clear that modern liberal/leftists are out to take my power, I can never support them. You old boomers are delusional, and your utopian engineering has morphed into something rather dark. But of course none of you even want to talk about it. Progress, science, la la la. Wake up! It's all about power!

Paul451 said...

Random aside:

On another blog, the archetypal lefty comment (bemoaning how much humanity invests in war, and how countries could instead "declare peace on each other"), made me wonder if it would be better to declare war more often, over trivial disputes. I originally meant in order to dilute the concept, have a bunch of countries at war with each other but not really doing anything about it. But then I thought... what if two friendly nations declared "civilised war" on each other over a minor dispute, and agreed to settle the issue via a war-game. Actual deployment of troops and equipment, ships and planes, similar to war-game exercises between allies - where troop and vehicle deployment is real, only the final firing of weapons is simulated and "scored" by observers.

The result is immediate, upon completion of the exercise. No diplomacy necessary, beyond setting the rules of the "conflict". It's also... well, it's entertaining. Something the citizens can get behind, the ultimate national sport. And like a diplomatic settlement, no one dies, no infrastructure is lost, less resources are expended (mostly fuel). But it feels more... for want of a better word... masculine than conventional diplomacy.

If the idea caught on, it could become a regular method of resolving disputes over trade, resources, even territory. These war-gaming nations could establish an "Institute of Civilised Warfare" ("Institut de Guerre Civilisée"?), to set rules and adjudicate "battles". Gradually the issues being resolved with "civilised war" would increase in seriousness, and nations more and more willing to let "civilised warfare" settle disputes with less friendly neighbours.


Paul451 said...


Eventually, nations at the edge of a high-level dispute, one that normally results in genuine war, might agree to "civilised war" merely out of habit. Over time it replaces more and more real war. At which point participating nations can look at saving the cost of standing armies. (Perhaps nations can choose, instead of actually buying missiles/etc for a battle, to place the equivalent amount in a temporary fund controlled by the Institute, then simulate firing as in a normal war-game. After the "battle", the winner gets the weapons fund as additional spoils of war.)

Nations would still need forces to defend against (or attack) non-participating nations, as peace-keepers, and to combat things like terrorism. Although there might even be ways of having civilian resistance, guerilla warfare, civil wars and coups, even terrorism, carried out under the rules of "civilised warfare" in a way that's costly enough to feel "worth it" to the participants. (Ie, with as serious consequences for both parties as the "uncivilised" version, legally and economically, if not in loss of life.)

Okay, I know at least one person here has thought of this before, and it's been the setting for any number of dodgy '80s sci-fi videos, but it's generally presented as an established system, I'm interested if you can get from here to there. (And the flaws you find in my idea. The original poster called it "Retarded", so the bar is set pretty low...)

Paul451 said...

Speaking of retarded...

Perhaps you should stop worrying about a few token appointments, or characters in TV shows, and look at the actual distribution of wealth in your country.

It ain't the blacks that are stealing your power. And race has for centuries been used to steer people like you away from noticing the real power-grab. "It's the Irish, no the Chinese, no the Mexicans..."

Paul451 said...

I recall an alternative method of "pumping your stomach" was developed for alcohol overdoses. They pump pure O2 into your lower-intestine to oxidise both the remaining alcohol and toxic metabolites.

I wonder if this magic nano-particle could do the same job from the other end. An "insta-sober" drink to let you drive home at the end of a Big Night.

(bumssio 2 - Phonetically appropriate.)

Robert said...

Anon, do you realize how racist you sound? You're whining because non-white men are getting a slightly larger piece of the power pie. Now, I understand that 99% of white men are in fact disempowered by that 1%. It's one of the reasons behind abuse in families and the like, as individuals subconsciously react to have power over those who can't resist them because they in turn feel powerless because of a jerk boss or the like. But this does not mean that allowing women and non-whites to have more power is a bad thing.

The enemy is not blacks, asians, hispanics, or women. It's the elite. It's the upper management that cuts thousands of jobs to save a company a million dollars... and is then given a million dollar bonus. It's politicians who believe slashing programs for the disenfranchised (which includes poor whites) and giving it to the uber-rich is a noble cause. It's what Dr. Brin calls the Aristocracy. And so long as you buy into the concept of Other that Republican politicians and their aristocratic buddies are shoving down your throat, you'll always be on the bottom of the heap while blaming everyone but the real villains for your woes.

Also, there is a difference between liberal and leftist. Liberals are not leftist and often look at their leftist cousins with an arched eyebrow and an "are you serious?" on the tip of their tongues.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Actually Paul you failed to mention the most obvious culprit in the naked social engineering/power grab that has been going on for the past several decades in America, but in the interest of good taste I won't name them.

The problem with you guys is that you have lived in a "progress bubble" and have no perspective. America as it is currently conceived is an impossible fantasy, totally at odds with history and human nature. We had a good run when we were a proud Christian/European nation, but now we have become a meaningless union of disparate cultures held together by heavy-handed laws and little else. This society will not survive the current depression, nor the challenge of rising empires like Islam and the Han, because we have become too weak and internally conflicted to fight. Face it, the American empire is finished, and liberalism killed it!

Robert said...

Actually, Anon, historically intelligent species that develop civilizations are outliers that shouldn't exist. So if you go by what has happened prior to now for your forecasts, humanity is going to go extinct and non-sentient animals will rule this planet. So really, what's the point? Might as well put a gun to your head really when you look at the history of evolution.

And if you believe God made things some 6,000 years or so ago, then historically the Jews have a far better legacy of civilization than white Europeans. In fact, Christianity itself is an aberration in which non-Jews tried to subvert the Jewish religion to gain the religious power of their God for themselves. It's doomed to failure since Jews are God's favored children.

I could go on. The thing is, if you look to history for your future then you're trapped by it. While you should not ignore history lest you repeat the mistakes of the past, likewise you should not LIVE in history. Humanity itself has evolved socially from tribes to city-states to nations to multi-national groups. That's progress for you.

Oh, and America became great because of the hard work and effort that our immigrants put in. Chinese and Japanese laborers helped establish railroads across this land. Blacks labored to allow white elites to become rich in the South. This nation has never been a White Christian European Nation. It's always been a mixture. An alloy. And that is where we gain our strength... and why we will prevail despite the defeatist whinings of people who would rather blame the slow growth of power of women and non-whites rather than admit that they didn't work hard enough themselves to achieve success.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

1776 was a revolt AGAINST the European monarchial system. True-red-white-and-blue American patriots are supposed to celebrate the fact that Americans created something different and better than old Europe.

Why is it that in the past 30 years or so, right-wing conservatives have found it fashionable to become nostalgic for Europe--not "socialist" Europe of today, of course, but monarchial Europe of the 18th century? I get the sense that they think the wrong side won the Revolution.

Robert said...

Oh, that's easy to explain. Some of the Tories returned. They found life outside of America to be too difficult. So Anon is just a Torie descendant who is whining because the Queen isn't ruling over him.

Rob H.

Tacitus2 said...

Anon appears to lack imagination. Also to be stuck in some sort of difficult situation. Hope things improve for him/her.

Rewinn, I lack the writs and torts to figure out the SCOTUS ruling. Your opinionated opinion, if you can spare it?

Like all complicated and unexpected things it requires a bit of thought....


oh, have not taken on Existence yet. I have to be in the right mood for a large read like that.

LarryHart said...


Like all complicated and unexpected things it requires a bit of thought....

No kidding! I still can't figure out if my side won or lost (in the long run). And I'd be really curious to know John Roberts's thinking. Kennedy's too, for that matter.

oh, have not taken on Existence yet. I have to be in the right mood for a large read like that.

I hope you've at least acquired your copy.

For me, it's going to take so many weeks to get through that several moods will come and go in the interim. OTOH, my wife could probably devour it in an afternoon, as she did with "The Postman."

SteveO said...

Tacitus et al...

From what I understand, the majority opinion concluded that in this case:

-The commerce clause was NOT sufficient justification for the individual responsibility "penalty"
--ergo, the government cannot make you buy something by penalizing you if you don't

-The ability of the government to tax fully justifies the individual responsibility "mandate" as a tax. If it walks like a tax and talks like a tax, it is a tax, even if the Administration said it wasn't
--ergo, Congress can tax you if it has an interest in doing so, and to that tax they can attach whatever conditions or exemptions they want

-Various questions about if the individual mandate is unconstitutional what happens to the law were rendered moot

-The government can attach conditions to funds that are distributed back to the states. However, it would induce an undue burden on the states to force compliance with the expansion of Medicaid for those who cannot afford insurance by taking away ALL Medicaid funds. They can only take away the new funds that would pay for such an expansion. Since the expansion is 90-100% paid for by the government, it will be interesting to see which Governors choose what they would see as the high road and turn down those funds in order to keep those who cannot afford insurance out of health care.

So Robert's opinion is in fact highly conservative when viewed in this light: The government can tax you as it sees fit and can't punish a state by taking away funds that are peripheral to the issue. Old, uncontroversial issues, and why originally very few constitutional scholars had any doubt as to the constitutionality of the ACA. Of course the job of the SCOTUS is not to rule on the advisability of a law, only its constitutionality.

It was interesting to see how the SCOTUS did not come into the oral arguments at all thinking that it was uncontroversial. To me, the dissenting opinion is more about "this is bad policy" than it is "this is unconstitutional." Very weird times.

Personally, I think the ACA will be net positive, but it is suboptimal as it uses the current deeply flawed provisioning and payment system.

Jonathan S. said...

You see, Rob, the disconnect here is that I'm discussing if someone could show you how to do things precisely as the Gospels claim Christ did them, while you're going at the angle of getting the same results as the tales in the Gospels. We're not even really arguing - you're just on a different tangent than I am.

Re: Anon - why are so many people feeding the troll? Why not just ignore it and get on with your lives? It's really not worth the time you're spending on it.

Robert said...

Psychological satisfaction to pummel a troll so deep into the ground that it leaves (when in fact the troll is sitting back and laughing at people getting riled up)?

Rob H.

rewinn said...

@Tacitus2 - I can't improve on @SteveO's analysis; it certainly is a complicated matter and I'm still pondering it. Is there any particular issue we should ponder?


Personally, I'm not terribly bothered by the majority's new limit on the Commerce Clause. Reasonable minds may disagree as to where that limit should be, and there's no denying that some policies I consider good would be easier to effectuate with a maximally expansive CC, but there's no denying that there MUST be a limit to it if our USA is to remain the federal system implied by the entire structure of our Constitution. Because the rule of law is a sine qua non of all good policy, we will simply have to effectuate good policy through other constitutional provisions, including if necessary the amendment process.

Otherwise, I must admit that I had not expected this outcome; I had expected the conservative 5 to toss the whole thing for reasons that don't matter since it didn't happen. In retrospect, I can think of all sorts of reasons why it should have turned out this way (e.g. the insurance industry wants those additional 30 million consumers more than it cares about having to spend 80% of premium on actual care) but that would only be conjecture.

The key point, to me, is that our glorious Constitution is worded flexibly enough that this result and a dozen variations, including precisely the opposite, could be plausibly argued. I do hope medicine works on different principles!


Back to OP for a sec:
"....t the four great innovations of the Enlightenment: Democracy, Markets, Science and Justice, absolutely depend on most of the participants knowing most of what's going on, most of the time..."

Has anyone mentioned SkyTruth as a model? Pretty cool stuff and a nice model of how openness might work at least for things big enough to see from space.

To have some sort of SkyTruth that keeps track of who our politicians are lunching with would be a massive invasion of privacy, and yet might it not also be helpful?

LarryHart said...


So Robert's opinion is in fact highly conservative when viewed in this light: The government can tax you as it sees fit and can't punish a state by taking away funds that are peripheral to the issue. Old, uncontroversial issues, and why originally very few constitutional scholars had any doubt as to the constitutionality of the ACA.

Which makes the minority opinion even harder to understand, other than as naked partisanism. You can take that as meaning "pro-Republican" or "pro-corporate" as seems appropriate.

To me, the dissenting opinion is more about "this is bad policy" than it is "this is unconstitutional." Very weird times.

"This is bad policy" is a charitable characterization. I'd put it more like "This is bad politics" or "This is bad for my corporate masters." And there but for the grace of Roberts's own vote, the dissent would have prevailed.

LarryHart said...


Otherwise, I must admit that I had not expected this outcome; I had expected the conservative 5 to toss the whole thing for reasons that don't matter since it didn't happen. In retrospect, I can think of all sorts of reasons why it should have turned out this way (e.g. the insurance industry wants those additional 30 million consumers more than it cares about having to spend 80% of premium on actual care)

And there is where it might be true that Obama was playing chess. He HAD to have the insurance industry behind the law. The left despises Obama's "weakness" in dealing with the right, but the sad fact is that at this point in history, reformers aren't going to get anywhere against the combined corporate might. But if SOME corporations are on the side of the reform, then they have the power to prevail against other corporations.

The same dynamic is playing out with global warming--the oil industry "doesn't believe it", but the insurance industry and the military do because they have to.

Tacitus2 said...

Occasionally I wonder if common sense is breaking out here and there. I find it more plausible than Obama "playing chess".

I will get to Existence by and by. Family reunion plus work.

Reading Manifest Space by Steven Baxter (hey, I had it around), which addresses some similar themes.


rewinn said...

Openness Alert: released Scout, a tool to notify you whenever issues you care about are included in legislative or regulatory actions by Congress or state legislatures. I'm still playing with it but it does seem useful for things for which you can define keyword searches.

Ian said...

Essentially everything "anonymous" has to say was debated back in the 1850's with the American Party (also appropriately known as the Know-Nothing Part)- only back then it was English Protestant civilization at risk from the Irish Papists.

Since this debate has already bene had at length, unless "Anonymous" brings something new to the table I see no point in rehashing it.

On a more interesting note (I hope): I got to thinking about the technological challenges facing a species living on Venus and it occurred to me that the same problems would apply even more strongly to a species on a Hot Jupiter exoplanet.

1. With an atmospheric pressure several hundred times that of Earth, creating a vacuum would be next to impossible. Not only would that retard the development of vacuum tube electronics, the vacuum pump was critical to the development of chemistry.

2. Achieving cryogenic technologies would be extremely difficult so they might never discover superconductivity or related phenomena which in turn would make the development of technologies like SQUIDs impossible.

Now, as I've pointed out previously, there may be other phenomena that we don't see on Earth or that we haven't developed as far as our counterparts would have. Fro example, those liquid metal coolant systems for nuclear reactors that we have so much difficulty with might be a doddle for them.


3. Think about the engineering challenges involved in space travel. It isn't just the matter of the higher gravity, a spacecraft would need to be hugely over-engineered by our standards to hold in several hundred Bars of atmosphere and would require staggering amounts of insulation.

For Hot Jupiters in extremely close orbits around their suns, they'd also have to overcome a massive gravity well to achieve interplanetary travel. (Of course, they might be able to use a gravitational slingshot around their sun to accelerate their ships and might even argue that we were the ones at a disadvantage.

Finally, just starting Existence and while I find the Franken Senate Building amusing, I find the Fey-Beck Senate Annex (located "outside the safe zone") even more amusing.

Ian said...

Paul451 reminds me of another idea I was cogitating on.

As I've pointed out, the success of SpaceX et al isn't so much a victory of the private sector over government as it is of a competitive market with open tendering over a crony capitalist system where a private cartel, the Space Launch Alliance, had an exclusive no-bid, cost-plus contract to provide launch services to NASA.

That latter set-up is also , in essence, in place in defense procurement in the US and around the world.

Now, if competition is good for space launch services is it also good for weapons system development and procurement?

DARPA already uses cash prizes and competitions in weapons development but can this be taken further?

Could DARPA finance the complete design of a finished weapon system and then make the final design open-source and allow multiple companies to tender for the construction and installation?

Let's go further: could countries share their weapon designs on a reciprocal basis? (i.e. "you show me yours and I'll show you mine")

The US keeps insisting that its ABM program is purely defensive and threatens no-one. If that's the case, why not allow Russia, china, Iran et al access to the plans?

Paper cup making machines said...

Great job on the blog, it looks great. I am going to bookmark it and will make sure to check back weekly!

Paul451 said...

Re: Anonymous trolls,

Personally, I prefer to initially take a troll's comments at face value, for, let's say four reasons: 1) Poe's law - no matter how bizarre, it might just be a real human delving into enemy territory for the first time, and I'd rather he spent time here than in some RaHoWa bubble, 2) I think responding to a troll calmly but seriously is reassuring to lurkers who worry how they'll be treated, 3) Poe's law #2 - there's invariably lurkers who share some aspect of the trolls views, I'm really answering them, and 4) good trolls need to be nurtured, who knows where our Anon could end up when he grows up.

I'd like to see the parallel, multi-vendor, fixed-price contracts expanded to other areas. At NASA, I wonder what you could do with SLS's nearly $3 billion in funding, to develop low-cost heavy lift launchers. In Defence, it'd be interesting to see a fixed-cost "prove it or lose it" program to parallel the troubled F-35 development, and if it works, use it for the two Next-Gen Bomber programs (2018/2037).

However, the biggest hold up is govt-wide FAR legislation. It pretty much requires the current system. NASA are sneaking in COTS/CCDev under special agreements, but Congress is trying to force them back under FAR. Single vendor, cost-plus contracts. Same ol' same ol'.

ell said...

Dr. Brin is mentioned several times in Arlen Andrews' article on SIGMA in the September issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine.

Tony Fisk said...

A young man tasered to death by NSW police was described, in court, as being abusive and aggressive by 4 police and transport officials.
One video said otherwise.

Yet again...
Next time police tell you to turn the camera off, just say no... politely.

duncan cairncross said...

"A young man tasered to death by NSW police was described, in court, as being abusive and aggressive by 4 police and transport officials."

It's a good story but the article doesn't say he was seriously hurt -

The article does mention another case when somebody died

Jumper said...

Sort of funny, I thought a few months ago when I Googled my landlord's property management company, who are completely unreliable and senseless: a couple of the local "crowd sourced" review sites were full of scathing reports by others who had run afoul of the company. But yesterday I revisited a couple of those sites and found nothing but glowing reviews except for just a few hidden near the last of several pages. Many of the positive reviews repeated the same phrasing often.

I suspect they finally stumbled on the horrible reviews of their company and hired a reputation firm to remedy it. Likely, this is offshored to India, but that's just my guess.

NYT had an article about this last year:

This whole thing I'm pointing out for its effects on transparency. One can sympathize with the unfortunates who would like to get rid of drunken college photos, but on the whole I would say such internet reputation firms are clear enemies of transparency.

It's disconcerting to me. There seem to be a lot of powerful people who I would like to research who have become invisible.